Eddie McClendon despised her first name as a child. After all, she was a girl with a boy’s name, and didn’t like being teased by her peers. So without asking anyone, she changed her name to Edna – a girl’s name. “After the children learned I wasn’t called Eddie anymore, they started calling me Edna,” she says from her residence at Monterey Park Rehabilitation Health Care Center in Independence. Edna celebrated her 100th birthday on June 28 at a family reunion at Grain Valley Community Center. Why did she do it? Chucking, she confesses: “I was a smart aleck. I didn’t want people to think I was a boy.” Born June 29, 1914, in Florala, Ala., Edna spent most of her life on both sides of the border in Kansas City. Shortly after her 36-year-old father’s death in Akron, Ohio, Edna’s grandfather came to bring the McCraney family to Kansas City, Kan., to live with him. “It was kinda rough, you know, growing up,” she says, recalling she and her elder sibling, Johnnie Mae, were the oldest of six siblings and were helping to support the family as teenagers. “We just survived by doing the things our mother told us to do,” she says. So instead of attending high school, the sisters joined their mother at Progress Laundry, where Edna sorted dirty clothes and Johnnie Mae ironed handkerchiefs. “(Their mother) taught them how to stick together,” says Jackie Milton, Edna’s niece and power of attorney. And they did. The most important thing Edna ever learned from her mother was this: Work hard and take care of the younger children. And that’s what they did. “When we got paid, our checks were given to our mother. She did the cashing of them and taking care of the money,” Edna recalls. “Sometimes we could get a little ice cream cone or something, you know, and (mother) supplied it.” While living with their grandparents, “Our mother put us in a children’s home because she did not want us to be wild and do bad things,” Edna says. “The home was run by teachers who taught them ethics ... and helped them to be very intelligent, speak correct English and do the right things,” says Jackie, noting professional black women operated the home for black children. “They were the ones who saw that (the children) got a good education and ... acted like teachers and professional women.” To most people, Edna is known as Aunt Edna. To Jackie, she’s Auntie Mom. That’s because she’s always been like a mom to Jackie. What’s so special about Auntie Mom? “As long as I have known her, she has been a very caring person,” Jackie says, “always caring for others, always doing things for others, always giving her time to others.” Says Jackie: “She’s a humanitarian; that is what I would call her. That would be her strongest attribute.” Of all her many achievements, sewing is one that brings Edna much happiness and enjoyment. In her prebirthday interview, she credits a home economic teacher at Northeast Junior High School for teaching her to sew and to make clothes. “And she did this for me,” she says of the teacher whose name she no longer remembers. “I took sewing classes and learned how to make clothes, and I can still make clothes,” she says, recalling she once made a beautiful cape for her sister to wear at Easter, because she didn’t have a coat. That beautiful cape is now in the possession of Jackie, the daughter of the late Johnnie Rae who lived to be 101. Once a civil rights activist, Edna was involved in numerous boycotts at Fairyland Park in Kansas City and at major stores in downtown Kansas City during the 1960s. Although arrested several times for boycotting, she was never jailed. Asked if she ever met Martin Luther King, Edna replies: “No. But I met Billy Graham. He came to our church (St. Stephen’s Baptist Church) and we had a chance to meet him in 1955.” And what was her reaction to shaking the hands of the famous Baptist preacher? “I think that was the best thing I have ever done.” As for becoming a centenarian,” It just makes me feel good,” she says. “The Lord loves me and I love Him and He looks after me. I want to live as long as He lets me live and I am going to try my best, if he lets me live, to care of myself so that I won’t be cripple and all those things.” There’s more to glean from the lives of Edna and Johnnie Mae in a published book entitled: “Two Sisters: Best Friends – Leaving Their Legacy of Love.” Compiled and edited by Mary P. Shepherd, the Preface reads, in part: “The two sisters ... attribute their long lives and the pleasures of life that they experienced to the good Lord. Their desire in telling their story in their own word is merely to educate, entertain and inspire others to give God the glory for all the blessing of life as they do every day, even now.” Happy Birthday, Edna!
Retired community news reporter Frank Haight Jr. writes this column for The Examiner. You can leave a message for him at 816-350-6363.